Headwaters Heritage Museum

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In 1905, the Board of Directors of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Company made the decision to expand its track to the west coast. A massive undertaking, the railroad started the project in three sections, one of which was Montana's eastern border to Butte, MT. It was the job of John Quincy Adams (no relation to the U.S. President of the same name), a land agent for the Milwaukee Land Company, to purchase land or lease right-of-way for the tracks. The railroad's strategy was not only to provide coast to coast service, but develop customers for itself along the route. To this end, some of the land purchased along the way was developed into towns, a source of passengers and freight for the railroad.

In 1907, arrangements were made for the Milwaukee to connect to the Montana Railroad, nicknamed the Jawbone, at Harlowton. The Montana Railroad connected to the Northern Pacific Railroad at Lombard, MT, carrying farm products and mined materials from central Montana. The Milwaukee then built a bridge across the Missouri at Lombard and laid track down the west side of the Missouri, through the headwaters area, along the Jefferson River canyon toward Butte.

Strangely, the Milwaukee passed along the edge of Old Town on the right-of-way reserved for the Utah and Northern Railroad on the original plat of Three Forks in 1882, but Adams apparently dismissed the town as a way point. In the late summer of 1908, Adams arranged for the creation of a new town on a level plain just southwest of Three Forks (Old Town). On September 17, 1908, the lot sale for the new town of Three Forks was held in the nearly completed Milwaukee depot.

The Adams family played a large role in the early development of the town. J.Q. Adams and his brother Charles purchased the Three Forks hotel in Old Town and moved it to the new Three Forks, enlarged and named it the Sacajawea Hotel. J.Q. built the large Adams Building on the corner of Main and Cedar, which has been the home of Robinson Jewelry, the Sacajawea Club rooms, Johnson Drug, several other businesses and is now owned by Chuck Wambeke for his Industrial Automation Consulting (IAC).

In just a few weeks, Three Forks went from a tent city to a vibrant, growing town, as reported by the Three Forks Herald. The Three Forks Herald is the only business to have grown up with the town, having been established by P.S. Dorsey and W. Bowman, with its first issue being printed in a tent just one week after the lot sale. A strong Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce), established in January 1909, helped "boost" and organize the town. The Milwaukee moved its division point from Lombard to Three Forks in 1909, building a locomotive roundhouse / repair shop. This also brought a large number of railroad men to the town. At the other end of town, the Northern Pacific built a depot along its Butte spur to serve the town. In late November 1909, the county commissioners approved a petition to incorporate the town of Three Forks, which was done on December 13, 1909. On January 17, 1910, William Parnacott, a local merchant, was elected Mayor.

Remaining content under construction

On the National Registry of Historic Places
The Adams Block, 123 Main St.
Airway Radio Station at Progreba Field, built 1935
The Ruby Theatre, built 1916
Sacajawea Hotel, built 1910
Three Valleys Bank, now housing the Headwaters Heritage Museum

~Area History Main Page

Contact Us
Ph (during hours) 406-285-4778
Ph (off season) 406-285-3644
Headwaters Heritage Museum
PO Box 116
Three Forks, MT 59752